Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Five easy food tips, à la Marrakech

Pitching in while they hash out carbon

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You'll never think about Marrakech the same way again.

As you read this, the UN's latest climate change conference is underway in this exotic city, which has long been luring the finest beats, bohos and hippies Europe and the rest of the world have conjured up — and not only with its crazy mint tea and perfectly tempered hashish.

Yes, Marrakech's fabulous souks still offer everything from perfect pyramids of olives and fragrant spices to Berber rugs and tagine cookers. But through to Nov. 18, world leaders and activists on the climate file are adding a new vibe as they convene at a specially built, ultra-modern "village" in Bab Ighli, the traditional entrance to the city's ancient medina.

With officials sorting out details on reducing carbon emissions as the Paris Agreement takes force while NGOs focus on issues like the disastrous effects climate change is having on our water resources, what better time to think about how we can shrink our carbon footprint every time we eat and drink?

Here are five e-a-s-y tips on how we can pitch in while they hash things out in Marrakech:

1. Ditch the bottled water. Unless you're one of the thousands of unfortunate First Nations folks, or those living near fracking and mining sites, who suffer from lousy water supplies, Canada, in general, and Whistler, in particular, has some of the finest drinking water in the world. So turn on the tap and quit being stupid about buying bottled water.

2. Use what you buy. The National Zero Waste Council reminds us that almost 200,000 tonnes of food ends up in our garbage cans and landfills annually. Never mind the huge costs associated with it. All that food rotting away spews out tonnes of greenhouse gases — the council estimates that four per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste. If you're not "growing your own" or buying from conscientious farmers who grow organically or, better, enhance the soil used to produce your wee head of lettuce, think of all the petrochemicals, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that got wasted, too, as they produced the stuff.

3. Use meat as a condiment. My friend Audrey shared this the other day: Use meat as a condiment. That means fish and seafood, too. Not a new adage, but one that resonates in our overfed society where price is no object, at least not one prone to slowing down consumption of all things, edible and otherwise.

Do we ration expensive, hard-to-get food items like generations before, making sure the precious roast beef lasted for four meals, and divvying up the salt pork into a dozen batches of baked beans? No way. We pretty much eat what we want as much as we want, and when it comes to high-grade things like meat the sky's the limit.

The Canadian Meat Council itself estimates that "animal production" generates 5.9 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, which would include everything from the methane in cow farts (a cow's stomach holds 150 to 190 litres of food and water) to land cleared of forests for pastures and feed crops. While the council emphasizes the land-clearing aspect, America's Environmental Protection Agency says that belches from cattle and other farm animals account for 26 per cent of all methane released in the U.S. So-called "manure management" — now there's a euphemism for you! — accounts for another 10 per cent. Together that's more than all the methane produced by America's gas and oil industries.

To circle back to point No. 2 for a minute, landfills produce about 18 per cent of human-related methane gases, which are 80-some times more potent than carbon in terms of greenhouse gas effect.

4. Shop the outer aisles. Here's another worthwhile classic, as much for our carbon footprint as our personal waistlines: Shop the outer aisles of your grocery store. That's where you'll find the fresh stuff — fresh fruits and veggies, the fresh meats and fish you're now using as special condiments to enhance those primo vegetable dishes, and the fresh bread and dairy products that are oh so good but also good to ration a bit.

Just read the labels on those processed foods in the centre aisles of your basic grocery store. Look what they're made of. Look where they're from. More often than not the longer the list of ingredients, the more transportation and production has gone in to deliver them to the store shelf. The further it's from, the further it's come — and that usually means more carbon.

5. Clean up with a conscience. Don't forget when you're done in the kitchen to also do the right thing cleaning up. It's tough to measure the carbon impact of all the chemicals used in commercial household cleaners, but it's safe to say if you think twice before using a lot of commercial products and go for classics like baking soda or vinegar along with green products like Nature Clean or Seventh Generation, you'll be ahead of the warming curve. Besides, if I choke on one more person smelling like Bounce when they walk past I'll scream!

By the way, if we don't stick to the Paris Agreement, science shows we're on track for a 3.2-degree C temperature increase by 2100. And that, my friends, will make us toast. In the meantime, check out your carbon footprint with the handy carbon calculator at nature.org.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who looks forward to cooler weather.

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